The Great Barrier Reef and other reef systems around the world are threatened by multiple processes, particularly warming and ocean acidification as a result of climate change. Reefs are complex life support systems and their degradation has devastating impacts on marine life and on terrestrial animal populations, including humans.
Conditions imposed by climate change and a strong El Nino triggered two waves of mass coral bleaching starting in late summer of 2016, leading to sharp declines in coral species and habitats. There have been additional bleaching events totalling four since 2016 with the most recent in 2022. Events like these are precisely why we have been putting all our efforts into establishing and applying the science around coral cryopreservation, as a means of saving genetic diversity which could otherwise be lost forever.
Taronga is the leading organisation in Australia applying cryopreservation technologies to reef management, restoration and research, for conservation management of the Great Barrier Reef. Our team of biologists working with the Smithsonian Institution, the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation have been annual spawning seasons since 2011, focussing on the cryobanking of keystone coral reef species (i.e. those that are essential to reef structure and function).
The CryoDiversity Banks at the Taronga Institute of Science & Learning on Cammeraigal Country in Sydney and at Taronga Western Plains Zoo on Wiradjuri Country in Dubbo, store and care for a portion of frozen coral cells until they are needed to re-seed the reef. The total number of species now housed in Taronga’s CryoDiversity Bank is 30 and represents the largest coral bank in the world. This living bank is also providing cells for studies which advance our understanding of coral biology and adaption to climate change and other environmental changes. As part of the Australian Government’s Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program (RRAP), supported and partnered by the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, Taronga’s cryobiologists with collaborators at UNSW continue work to preserve biodiversity and make available cryopreservation tools for at-scale reef restoration efforts in concert with RRAP conservation tools. New funding applications are in development with state environment agencies to progress and apply science of coral reef recovery in NSW.
In the news
Click to read more stories about reef recovery in the media:
- Taronga Conservation Society Australia - 'Taronga freezing the Great Barrier Reef's future'
- Australian Institute of Marine Science - Cryopreserving living coral from the Great Barrier Reef'
- Australian Institute of Marine Science – ‘Coral Spawning and biobanking on Woppaburra Sea Country'
Publications and resources
- Producing Coral Offspring with Cryopreserved Sperm: A Tool for Coral Reef Restoration
- Freezing the Great Barrier Reef: an investment in our future
- First frozen repository for the Great Barrier Reef coral created
- The Reality, Use and Potential for Cryopreservation of Coral Reefs
- Cryobiology: principles, species conservation and benefits for coral reefs
- Scientific foundations of zoos and aquariums: Their role in conservation and research: Hobbs, R. J., Spindler, R. E. and O’Brien, J. K. (2019). Chapter 4: Strategic Gene Banking for Conservation: The Ins and Outs of a Living Bank. In: Scientific Foundations of Zoos and Aquariums: Their Role in Conservation and Research. Cambridge University Press. A. Kaufman, T. Maple and M. Bashaw (eds). Pp. 112-146. DOI: 10.1017/9781108183147.005
- What is Cryopreservation? Great Barrier Reef Foundation (2021)
- Cryopreservation Can Assist Gene Flow on the Great Barrier Reef: Daly, J., Hobbs, R.J., Zuchowicz, N., O’Brien, J.K., Bouwmeester, J., Bay, L., Quigley, K. and Hagedorn, M. (2022). Coral Reefs 24:1-8.
- A Decade of Coral Biobanking Science in Australia-Transitioning into Applied Reef Restoration: Hobbs, R.J., O'Brien, J.K., Bay, L.K., Severati, A., Spindler, R., Henley, E.M., Quigley, K.M., Randall, C.J., van Oppen, M.J., Carter, V., Zuchowicz, N., Hagedorn, M., Daly, J. (2022). Frontiers Marine Science, DOI: 10.3389/fmars.2022.960470